Between Amens – Catholics need careful planning and joyful hope

Dr. Karen Shadle

We are in the midst of a plandemic. That’s not a typo. Among the many frustrations we face in light of the ongoing health crisis is the inability to plan. I call it the plandemic. Whether trying to prepare for next month, next week, or tomorrow, my best efforts are merely tentative.

For the very organized among us, this is an affront to our way of life. Even my plans for this column, which was going to be about my children’s return to classroom instruction, had to change because of a temporary shift to distance learning for my oldest child. My thoughts on that topic can wait until next month. Unless something changes. Which it will.

We have a very detailed family calendar for two working parents, a middle-schooler and a preschooler. I look at my calendar with little confidence that any of the things I have written on it will come to fruition as planned. We all have to be ready to adjust at a moment’s notice in the very likely event of an emergency. Our situation is not unique. It is much the same for almost every family, parish, school and business these days.

I plan to vote this November 3, and as I was researching the protocols at my polling place, I stumbled across a story about an asteroid headed our way on November 2. I had to laugh. The plandemic strikes again. (Don’t worry — it should narrowly avoid earth impact. Probably.)

I have begun to get questions from our parishes about Christmas. Will we be able to have a choir? Will capacity restrictions still be in place? Should we add more Masses? Do we need an overflow space? No one knows the answers to these questions, but plans must be made nevertheless. It is very frustrating.

With the death of planning comes a renaissance of hoping. Hope is an important aspect of our Catholic faith. At the embolism following the Lord’s Prayer at Mass, the presider prays that we may be “safe from all distress, as we await the blessed hope” of the coming of Jesus. The virtue of hope is our innermost desire to place our trust in God. Hope is not built on human plans but on God’s promise of salvation.

As social restrictions drag on, hope flourishes. My spirits have been lifted by wedding pictures from couples who have decided to forego postponement and get married in the middle of a pandemic anyway. It is disappointing to have picture-perfect wedding plans disrupted, but hope impels them to embrace the imperfect. On August 29, eighteen men of our archdiocese were ordained deacons.  They will arrive at new parish assignments with big plans for ministry. Those plans will rapidly change. Nevertheless, these bold commitments are a tangible witness to what we profess through the sacraments: that God’s grace will lift us up in our vocations no matter what obstacles we face.

A priest friend once told me that he never even attempts to write a homily until the night before it is to be delivered. Circumstances and our thoughts about them change too frequently to plan ahead any further. Even then, he says, sometimes on Sunday morning the Holy Spirit taps on his shoulder and points him in a new direction. That is a man who is prepared for the plandemic.

The reality is that we need both careful planning and joyful hope to flourish in these coming days. May we be well prepared but flexible, allowing the Holy Spirit to nudge us even at the last minute to the place where God needs us to be.

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